Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Because Shaun asked . . .

I commented on Shaun's blog today, mentioning that I am reading rheology journals. Shaun responded:

rheology: the study of the deformation and flow of matter under the influence of an applied stress

What on EARTH do you do for a living?
Well, Shaun, since you asked - I’m a rheologist, of course!

I work for an oilfield services company, in research, developing and studying drilling fluids. I could give you a couple of references to papers I authored, but that would ruin my anonymity and you would probably lose interest in them before you finished the title. I did
post an excerpt from a paper on my blog some time ago, pretty much just to scare people.

For me, I try to make fluids that you can pump down a hole that can be five or six miles long, have it viscous (thick) enough to remove the drilled up dirt from the hole but not so thick that it’s like pushing bread dough through a straw. Plus about a hundred other considerations. Oh, bonus! The common vernacular for drilling fluids is to call them "muds" (since they consist mostly of dirt and water). So I get to tell people I play with mud all day long - every little boys dream!

As for rheology in general, it has great application in everyday life. For example, take peanut butter. You want the processed peanut butter thick enough so that it doesn’t separate into that oil layer on top like organic peanut butters (most people like it this way). If it is too thick, though, you can’t spread it on bread without tearing the bread. There is a nice, non-scary article
here that gives a basic explanation. The premise of rheology is that everything flows, everything is deformable, given a long enough timescale and the proper environment.

Rheology trivia:
  1. The longest running laboratory experiment (as recognized by Guinness) is a rheology experiment. (Unsurprisingly, I’ve blogged this, as well.) In it, pitch (you know, the stuff Noah used to seal the ark) at room temperature – which will shatter like glass if hit with a hammer – has been left in funnel to drip for the last 78 years. In that time, it has produced eight drops. It has won both an Ig-Nobel Prize and Dull Website of the Year from the Dull Men’s Club.
  2. Glass panes in very old churches in Europe are a prime example of everything flows. The glass is noticeably thicker at the bottom of the pane than at the top. Even though the glass seems "solid" it is really flowing over a very long time.
  3. There is a rheological parameter named the Deborah Number, after Deborah in the book of Judges. In her song praising God in Judges 5:5, she sings "The mountains flowed before the Lord." She is thus commonly recognized as the first rheologist noting that, given God’s long-term objective, everything does indeed flow.
So, too much information? You can read some more that I’ve talked about rheology on my blog, if you’re interested. I wouldn’t be surprised if that link never gets followed, though.


Anonymous said...


How'd you get into this field? At what age did you say "I want to be a rheologist?"


Chaotic Hammer said...

I'd love to follow those links and learn more about this intriguing subject.

But darn, wouldn't you know it, of all days... I've got something important I need to take care of. (It's deja vu all over again.)

Douglas said...

Finally, something interesting... after a long drought of music review after music review.

Any chance that I can learn about cave man jackets as a follow up to cave man shoes? I'm looking for some interesting Geekspeak to share at the SDM conference in Chicago next week.


euphrony said...

MB, sorry that you've been bored by my blogging recently. Here's a bad joke for you (also from Engines of our Ingenuity):
Sidney: "Paul, I heard you were working on a perpetual motion machine."
Paul: "Well, I Sure am, Sidney, I'm attaching a crankshaft to my Phillip Glass CD ."

(blank space for groans after that joke)

I'd like to say my mama weened me on stories like "The Little Pump that Could" - but that would be a lie. In college, I was somewhat adept at fluid mechanics. In grad school, I worked under a professor doing polymer rheology research, and it grew from there. It's a good job. I have gotten to do a bit of travel (to some nice places like Scotland, Norway, Maine, Canada - oh, and Tulsa, too) but spend most of my time at home with the family. Rheology has an impact on many aspects of our lives - from mayonnaise to engine oil to the little plastic doodad you get for your kids for a quarter from a vending machine (and the plastic egg it came in, too). Kevlar, that stuff that stops bullets, is technically a "liquid crystal" polymer - but if you process it wrong (under poor rheological conditions) it wouldn't stop a sneeze.

Case & Kani Herrington said...

E, the thing I dig about rheology is the way it empirically establishes the relationship between deformations and stresses, respective of their derivatives by adequate measurements, and using techniques of rheometry, to make amenable such relationships to mathematical treatment by established methods of continuum mechanics. That's what gets me off.

a kelly said...

Ok so I will admit my eyes were glazing over until I read part 2 and 3 and now I'm interested in rheology and for the potential of a scrabble word I never knew before. you have done a public service.
for now I'll just "go with the flow"
(like you've never heard THAT before...)

Anonymous said...


I'm doing some marketing for an Australian drilling fluids supplier. I'm looking for someone to write some articles about drilling fluids, specifically about the environmental and occupational health and safety aspects of the use/re-use/disposal of said fluids/muds.

Is that your area of expertise and would you be intrested in this work?

Pleae email me at philipdotlangleyatgmaildotcom


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